Swedish Cops Featured in Fox News Segment Say Views Were Misrepresented
The police officers who were featured in the “documentary” that apparently inspired President Donald Trump to make his widely mocked comments Friday about an incident in Sweden say the filmmaker is a “madman” who misrepresented their views. “When you look at what’s happening in Germany, when you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden—Sweden! Who would believe this? Sweden! They took in large numbers; they’re having problems like they never thought possible,” Trump had said at a Friday rally. On Sunday night, Trump acknowledged what had already been pretty clear: he was inspired by a Fox News segment.
Sure, Trump may have access to the most extensive intelligence network in the world, but he apparently prefers to believe what he sees on Tucker Carlson’s show. And he seems to have been particularly moved by a segment in which Carlson interviewed Ami Horowitz about a documentary he made on how Sweden is descending into violent chaos because it opened its doors to refugees.
My statement as to what's happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 19, 2017
Part of the support Horowitz presents for his view on Sweden’s horrors are interviews with two police officers. The problem is those officers say they never meant to espouse the message that Horowitz attributes to them. “It was supposed to be about crime in high risk areas. Areas with high crime rates. There wasn’t any focus on migration or immigration,” Anders Göranzon told Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter. According to Göranzon, Horowitz “edited” their answers which were to “completely different questions in the interview.” His conclusion? “This is bad journalism.”
Now the cops are wary of answering any questions, lest they be misrepresented. “It feels like hell. The real questions should be shown along with our answers,” Göranzon added. “The end result is that we don’t want to talk to journalists after this. We can’t trust each other.”
Horowitz stood by his film, denying he had misrepresented the interviews or its intent. "The answers were accurate," Horowitz told the Guardian. “This is part of the problem that Sweden has, and the officers are probably under a lot of pressure because of what they said. It’s difficult in that environment to stand up to it, so I feel sorry for them.”
Trump made sure to keep the issue in the spotlight on Monday when he took to Twitter again and implied the details don’t matter and the real message is the problems Sweden is facing because of its immigration policies. “The FAKE NEWS media is trying to say that large scale immigration in Sweden is working out just beautifully,” Trump wrote. “NOT!”
Give the public a break - The FAKE NEWS media is trying to say that large scale immigration in Sweden is working out just beautifully. NOT!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 20, 2017
Carlson himself said those making fun of Trump were missing the big picture by focusing on the commander in chief’s words rather than on what his overall message was. “It seems like we may be missing the point of the story, which is there has been a massive social cost associated with the refugee policies and the immigration policies of Western Europe,” Carlson said on Fox News on Monday morning. “Fifty years of immigration policy is coming to flower in Europe. We’re not paying any attention. We’re not drawing any of the obvious lessons from it. It's not working. That's the real point here.”
A day earlier, Sweden’s embassy in Washington wrote on Twitter that they were looking “forward to informing the US administration about Swedish immigration and integration policies.” It’s a role the embassy is familiar with considering Sweden's diplomatic outposts have been tasked with countering the vast amounts of misinformation that has been spread about the country’s refugee program.
CPAC Disinvites Milo Yiannopoulos After Pedophilia Defense
Update at 3 p.m.: The American Conservative Union gave in to pressure and decided to rescind the invitation it had extended to Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at this week's Conservative Political Action Conference. Apparently all the horrific things he has said before were acceptable but Yiannopoulos' seeming endorsement of at least some types of pedophilia is where the ACU draws the line.
“Due to the revelation of an offensive video in the past 24 hours condoning pedophilia, the American Conservative Union has decided to rescind the invitation of Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference,” ACU head Matt Schlapp said in a statement on Twitter. “We continue to believe that CPAC is a constructive forum for controversies and disagreements among conservatives, however there is no disagreement among attendees on the evils of sexual abuse of children."
Yiannopoulos will of course get lots of free publicity out of this and has told The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza he still plans to go to Washington.
I just got off the phone with Milo Y. He was unaware of this decision and said he's probably still coming to DC. https://t.co/YxCAjLyC7I— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) February 20, 2017
Original post: It was an eventful weekend for Milo Yiannopoulos, the Breitbart editor who likes to describe himself as a provocateur. First, he sparked a disturbing bromance with Bill Maher on HBO, then he was invited to speak at this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference, and to round up the weekend, videos were released in which the self-described “virtuous troll” defends pedophilia and jokes about sexual abuse by members of the clergy.
Although the videos weren't new, they were repackaged and published on Twitter by a conservative account clearly critical of the CPAC invite. The videos show how Yiannopoulos played down the importance of child abuse—“You can get quite hung up on this child abuse thing.” He then goes on to say that sexual relations between “younger boys” and older men could be part of a “coming-of-age relationship” in which “those older men help those young boys discover who they are.” When an unnamed person suggests that Yiannopoulos was advocating for something that “sounds like Catholic priest molestation to me,” the Breitbart editor suggested that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. “But you know what? I’m grateful for Father Michael. I wouldn’t give nearly such good head if it wasn’t for him.” He later seems to suggest that sexual relations with a 13-year-old isn’t necessarily pedophilia:
“You’re misunderstanding what pedophilia means. Pedophilia is not a sexual attraction to somebody 13 years old who is sexually mature. Pedophilia is attraction to children who have not reached puberty. Pedophilia is attraction to people who don’t have functioning sex organs yet who have not gone through puberty.”
In an earlier interview with comedian Joe Rogan, Yiannopoulos also seemed to try to normalize pedophilia, denying that “Father Michael” was a “terrible person,” adding: “It wasn’t molestation.” He later asked Rogan: “So you’re saying you’ve never seen a 15-year-old girl, at any point in your life, that you thought was hot?”
Yiannopoulos took to Facebook to defend himself, denying he ever defended pedophilia and suggesting this was all a Republican-led campaign to discredit him:
I do not support pedophilia. Period. It is a vile and disgusting crime, perhaps the very worst. There are selectively edited videos doing the rounds, as part of a co-ordinated effort to discredit me from establishment Republicans, that suggest I am soft on the subject.
CNN’s Jake Tapper got involved on the debate, writing a series of tweets wondering how CPAC could possibly defend Yiannopoulos.
Friend of mine, conservative, could not be more distraught by this Milo tape. Was molested as a child. Horrified.— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) February 20, 2017
More from survivor of sex trafficking: "Please please please don't let that mess he said go away."— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) February 20, 2017
How on earth can CPAC defend this?
Preying on children is the definition of evil. Justifying it in any way is sick and disturbing.— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) February 20, 2017
Has everyone lost their minds?
Still, many have expressed disappointment with that decision and have called on the ACU to rescind its invite, particularly after the new videos surfaced. The ACU board, which includes the likes of Kellyanne Conway and Grover Norquist, was allegedly never consulted on the decision.
This is why you consult board members. https://t.co/PSvRBBY77n— Ned Ryun (@nedryun) February 20, 2017
Members of conservative media currently roasting CPAC having Milo. pic.twitter.com/kTEmzGSlUy— andrew kaczynski 🤔 (@KFILE) February 18, 2017
I just listened to the Rogan/Milo interview. #Milo was absolutely permissive of pedophilia. It's not controversial or edgy. It's deviant.— John Cardillo (@johncardillo) February 20, 2017
ACU head Matt Schlapp, however, has defended the invite. “We realize that this invitation will be accompanied by controversy which we think the conservative movement and our CPAC attendees can handle,” Schlapp told the Washington Post in an email. Schlapp confirmed on Monday that President Donald Trump will also be speaking at CPAC.
Trump Associates Work With Ukrainian Opposition on Plan to Lift Russia Sanctions
Amid all the scrutiny over President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, a fresh scoop illustrates how the commander in chief’s associates are not shying away from trying to seal backroom deals that could end up helping the Kremlin. According to information first revealed by the New York Times, Trump’s personal lawyer (Michael Cohen), a former business associate (Felix Sater), and a member of the Ukrainian parliament (Andrii Artemenko) met to discuss a possible peace plan for Russia that could give Moscow control over the territory it seized in 2014. Conveniently enough, the plan would then lead to the lifting of sanctions against Russia and, as a bonus, could lead to the toppling of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.
The story is mighty complicated, but here is a giant hint that it’s important: One of the key players has started playing defense and has reportedly changed his story. According to the Times, Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, delivered the sealed proposal for Ukrainian-Russian peace to Michael Flynn a week before he was forced out as national security adviser. Cohen vehemently denied that was the case to the Washington Post, which followed the Times scoop with its own story. “I acknowledge that the brief meeting took place, but emphatically deny discussing this topic or delivering any documents to the White House and/or General Flynn,” Cohen said. According to Cohen, he told the Ukrainian member of parliament (Andrii V. Artemenko) he could mail his peace proposal to the White House like anyone else. The Times stands by its story, insisting Cohen said “in no uncertain terms that he delivered the Ukraine proposal to Michael Flynn’s office at the White House.”
Although the “amateur diplomats,” as the Times calls them, seem eager to characterize the efforts as driven by a desire for peace, there’s more to it than that consider Artemenko also has power ambitions of his own and apparently sees himself as "a Trump-style leader of a future Ukraine." Artemenko also claimed he had been encouraged by Moscow to move forward with the plan. On Monday, the Kremlin essentially laughed off the proposal, calling it absurd to think that Russia would agree to lease out Crimea. (Under the proposal, Russian forces would withdraw from Eastern Ukraine and voters would decide whether the land would be leased to Russia for a 50-year or 100-year term.) “There's nothing to talk about,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “How can Russia rent its own region from itself?”
Some are highlighting the presence of murky business associate Sater, who once pleaded guilty to Mafia-related stock fraud, as particularly important. When Sater’s criminal past was revealed, Trump insisted he barely knew him. Now, however, this latest story shows he could still be influential in Trump circles. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo explains:
On its own, Trump's relationship with Sater might be written off (albeit not terribly plausibly) as simply a sleazy relationship Trump entered into to get access to capital he needed to finance his projects. Whatever shadowy ties Sater might have and whatever his criminal background, Trump has long since washed his hands of him. (Again, we're talking about most generous reads here.)
But now we learn that Sater is still very much in the Trump orbit and acting as a go-between linking Trump and a pro-Putin Ukrainian parliamentarian pitching 'peace plans' for settling the dispute between Russia and Ukraine.
Indeed, far, far more important, Cohen—who is very close to Trump and known for dealing with delicate matters—is in contact with Sater and hand delivering political and policy plans from him to the President.
Even as he denied he delivered the documents to the White House, Cohen seemed to recognize he still had regular contact with Sater. After all, he told the Post that the only reason he attended the meeting with Artemenko was as s courtesy to Sater.
Dozens Fired After Joining “Day Without Immigrants” Protests
More than 100 people were suddenly out of work across the country this past week after they participated in Thursday’s “Day Without Immigrants” protest. As numerous restaurants across the country closed their doors in solidarity with the cause, other employers were decidedly less understanding.
Eighteen of those who were fired worked at Bradley Coatings Inc., which had warned employees they would lose their jobs if they didn’t come to work. "Regretfully, and consistent with its prior communication to all its employees, BCI had no choice but to terminate these individuals,” the company said in a statement. “The reason these employees missed work—to engage in peaceful demonstrations—had nothing to do with BCI’s decision to terminate them.” Fired workers said they planned to make up the day on Sunday but the company didn’t budge.
In Lexington, South Carolina, 21 workers were fired from Encore Boat Builders after they took part in the national protest. The company has declined to comment. And in Denver, at least 30 workers were fired from JVS Masonry after they missed work on Thursday. “I have no view on immigration laws or anything going on with that. All I know is I have a business to run,” company owner Jim Serowski said. In Miami, four construction workers were fired—and 17 others subsequently quit in protest—from the Orange and Blue company.
In New York, 25 workers were fired from Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant & Caterers in Long Island. In Catoosa, Oklahoma, a dozen workers were fired from the I Don’t Care Bar and Grill after they didn’t show up for work. The owner fired at least some of them via a horrific text message: “You and your family are fired. I hope you enjoyed your day off, and you can enjoy many more. Love you.” Restaurant owner Bill McNally justified the move, saying he has “zero tolerance policy” for people who skip work. The restaurant has already taken to Facebook to find new employees.
An immigration activist said that six employees at the Bahamas Breeze restaurant in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania were fired after participating in the protest. The restaurant later reversed its decision after it was “bombarded” with calls. But the company that owns the restaurant disputes the allegation, saying nobody was fired. There were also confusing reports out of a daycare in Bonita Springs, Florida, where workers said two were fired and four subsequently quit in protest. But the head of the daycare disputed the allegation.
Some are now taking to social media to call for boycotts of the companies that fired workers.
Homeland Security Set to Make It Much Easier to Deport Undocumented Immigrants
The Department of Homeland Security has drafted up new orders that would expand the number of immigrants who could be quickly detained and deported both inside the United States and at the border. Secretary John Kelly signed a series of memos that were distributed among agency chiefs on Friday and would, among other things, expand by hundreds of thousands the number of immigrants who could be subject to expedited removal from the country. The memos also note that additional enforcement agents would be hired and local law enforcement would be enlisted to help make arrests.
The White House insists the memos are not final and the administration will make changes, but they demonstrate how Homeland Security is looking to put into practice President Donald Trump’s newly aggressive immigration policies. And, at the very least, they provide a broad look at what the first steps in the long-expected immigration crackdown could be.
In essence, the new memos amount to a stark rewriting of the way the country’s immigration laws are enforced and would “supersede nearly all of those issued under previous administrations … including measures from President Barack Obama aimed at focusing deportations exclusively on hardened criminals and those with terrorist ties,” notes the Washington Post. One thing the memos don’t include? Any talk of using National Guard troops to arrest immigrants that had been part of a draft document that was leaked on Friday. (Officials say Kelly never approved that plan.)
The most significant moves outlined in the memos include:
- Authorizing expedited deportation proceedings for any undocumented immigrants who have been in the country for less than two years. The procedure is currently limited to those who have been in the United States for less than two weeks.
- Unaccompanied minors who arrive in the United States would no longer be protected from deportation, and their parents could face prosecution if they paid traffickers to smuggle their children across the border.
- The bar will be raised on the initial screening of asylum seekers, giving officers more leeway to narrowly interpret whether the applicant has “credible fear” of persecution if returned home.
- Immigrants who are caught crossing the border from Mexico will be immediately sent back to the country while their deportation hearings are pending. That means non-Mexican asylum seekers could be sent to Mexico to wait for their hearings.
- For now, the memos leave in place President Obama’s protection of the so-called “dreamers,” who arrived to the United States as children. But that doesn’t seem final, considering that one memo explicitly says there is no protected class of immigrants.
- The definition of who is considered a criminal for deportation purposes would be expanded to not only those who have actually been convicted of a crime, but also to those who have been (or could be) charged.
- Money used to advocate on behalf of undocumented immigrants would go toward setting up the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) Office.
- Agency chiefs are to begin hiring 10,000 additional ICE agents and 5,000 more members of the Border Patrol.
The Department of Homeland Security is not commenting on the documents but did not dispute that they are authentic.
Chelsea Clinton Trolls Trump Over Sweden Comment: Did They Catch Bowling Green Perpetrators?
Social media lit up on Saturday night with people rushing to make fun of President Donald Trump for suggesting that something terrible had happened in Sweden due to immigrants (or refugees?) Many in Sweden were baffled by Trump’s comment—“When you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden—Sweden! Who would believe this? Sweden!”—and were quick to point out this was only the latest in a string of terror attacks his administration seems to have made up to support the Muslim ban.
Although it is the continuation of a worrying trend, many decided the best way to combat the false statement (that may have very well been inspired by a Fox News segment) was with humor. Chelsea Clinton was one of them: “What happened in Sweden Friday night? Did they catch the Bowling Green Massacre perpetrators?”
What happened in Sweden Friday night? Did they catch the Bowling Green Massacre perpetrators?— Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) February 19, 2017
Former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt was even more direct and wondered what Trump “has been smoking.”
Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound. https://t.co/XWgw8Fz7tj— Carl Bildt (@carlbildt) February 19, 2017
Others posted mocking photos using the hashtag #LastNightInSweden, making hilarious references to the likes of the Swedish Chef and Ikea.
Chelsea Clinton’s tweet served as a reminder of how the daughter of former president Bill Clinton and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has emerged as one of Trump’s sharpest critics on Twitter even as her parents maintain a decidedly lower profile. Only this past week, for example, Chelsea Clinton helped out Trump with how he should have responded to a question about rising anti-Semitism: “One would think he would have thought of an answer since yesterday. Here's one: There's no place for any bigotry, ever, in America.”
John McCain: Suppressing Free Press Is “How Dictators Get Started”
Senator John McCain continued to show he is one of the few Republican leaders willing to stand up to President Donald Trump, by starkly warning that the commander in chief was sounding an awful lot like a burgeoning dictator. In an interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd, McCain didn’t hesitate when he was asked about the president’s controversial tweet that specifically named several media outlets and called them the “enemy of the American people.”
"I hate the press. I hate you especially," McCain said. "But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It's vital." The Arizona senator who has just been reelected to another six-year term added that in order to “preserve democracy” a “free and many times adversarial press” is essential. “That’s how dictators get started,” he continued. “They get started by suppressing a free press. In other words, a consolidation of power. When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press.”
McCain made sure to emphasize that he wasn’t saying “President Trump is trying to be a dictator” but rather that “we need to learn the lessons of history.”
The Arizona senator spoke to NBC shortly after he took his criticism of the commander in chief internationally, telling the Munich Security Conference in Germany that the administration was in “disarray” and the Western world is in peril. McCain never actually mentioned Trump by name but the message was clear as he lamented a shift away from the “universal values” that brought together the NATO alliance decades ago. He added that the founders would be “alarmed by the growing inability, and even unwillingness, to separate truth from lies” and by “the hardening resentment we see toward immigrants and refugees and minority groups—especially Muslims.”
McCain wasn’t alone in defending the press in Munich. Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen told the conference she was concerned about Trump’s attacks on the press. "The real danger is the president’s criticism of the media," Shaheen said. "A free press ... is very important to maintaining democracy, and efforts on the part of a president to undermine and manipulate the press are very dangerous."
Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel took up the theme and defended the press: "I have high respect for journalists. We've always had good results, at least in Germany, by relying on mutual respect."
Did Fox News Lead Trump to Believe There Was a Terror Attack in Sweden?
President Donald Trump seemed to once again provide evidence for just how much cable news he watches during his campaign rally in Florida on Saturday. While he was defending his travel ban, Trump brought up examples from around the world about why Americans need the added protection: “When you look at what’s happening in Germany, when you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden—Sweden! Who would believe this? Sweden! They took in large numbers; they’re having problems like they never thought possible.”
Trump, discussing terror, seamlessly mentions incident "last night in Sweden".— Steve Kopack (@SteveKopack) February 19, 2017
There was NO "incident" in Sweden last night. pic.twitter.com/XtcC4PRiNU
That immediately raised a few eyebrows. Sweden? What was he talking about? Was there some sort of terrorist attack in Sweden Friday night that no one heard about? On social media, it fell on the random citizen controlling the @sweden Twitter account this week to clarify that there wasn’t some grand conspiracy; there really has not been “any terrorist attacks here. At all.”
No. Nothing has happened here in Sweden. There has not ben any terrorist attacks here. At all. The main news right now is about Melfest. ->— @sweden / Emma (@sweden) February 19, 2017
So why did Trump say it? Well, he could have just picked a country out of thin air. Or maybe, the commander in chief was watching Fox News Friday night. In a segment on Tucker Carlson’s show, journalist Ami Horowitz claimed the Swedish government is covering up rape crimes in order to protect “vulnerable” migrants. “From the onset of the refugee crisis, there was a surge in gun violence and rape—the statistics were clear,” Horowitz said. “But locals just said ‘it was men, not refugees,’ so the majority in Sweden still want to have an open-door policy. It’s confounding, really.”
Even if that was the case though, the segment on Carlson’s show didn’t actually say anything happened Friday night. Little wonder then that it didn’t take long for some on Twitter to equate the Swedish “attack” with the Bowling Green Massacre.
Conway makes up Bowling Green Massacre. Spicer makes up attack in Atlanta. Trump makes up attack in Sweden. All fake; all blamed on Muslims.— Melissa McEwan (@Shakestweetz) February 19, 2017
We survivors of the Bowling Green Massacre stand in solidarity with the tragic victims of The Sweden Incident. Oh, the horror. The horror.— Comcha Terra (@ComchaTerra) February 19, 2017
Update on Feb. 20 at 7:15 a.m.: President Trump confirmed on Twitter that his reference to Sweden had to do with a segment he watched on Fox News.
Trump Doubles Down on Feud With Media at Florida Campaign Rally
After a chaotic week in the White House, President Donald Trump went back to familiar, comfortable territory: a campaign rally. The coordinator of the event told Fox News it was the president’s “first re-election rally,” and it certainly had that feel as thousands of people packed the hangar for the event. Trump didn’t go to present any new policy initiatives, and didn’t really reveal anything new in detail beyond broad outlines of things that he and senior members of his administration have talked about before. But he started out with one clear message that continued throughout the speech: the “dishonest media” are lying about him and his presidency. That came shortly after he wrote on Twitter that the media are the “enemy of the American people.”
“I want to speak to you without the filter of the fake news,” Trump told the cheering crowd. “The dishonest media, which has published one false story after another with no sources— even though they pretend they have them they make them up in many cases. They just don’t want to report the truth.”
In his characteristically humble self, Trump went on to compare himself to “many of our greatest presidents” who also “fought with the media and called them out,” specifically mentioning Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Abraham Lincoln. "When the media lies to people, I will never, ever, let them get away with it. I will do whatever I can that they don't get away with it," Trump said. "They have their own agenda and their agenda is not your agenda."
Despite what the media are reporting, “the White House is running so smoothly, so smoothly,” Trump said. And if it isn’t running smoothly it isn’t his fault: “I, and we, inherited one big mess—that I can tell you.”
Although he didn’t dedicate as much time to them, Trump also said his administration has another enemy besides the press: the judges who put a stop to his travel ban. The president vowed to issue a new immigration order “over the next couple of days” and falsely claimed that the United States knows “nothing” about the refugees and immigrants who enter the country. He also once again mentioned that he would create “safe zones” in Syria and other places with the cash put up by Gulf states that “have nothing but money.”
President Donald Trump slams the ruling that halted the implementation of his immigration executive order https://t.co/szvPSURaSc— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) February 18, 2017
Throughout the speech, Trump celebrated his November victory and said he wanted to be around supporters. "I am here because I want to be among my friends and among the people," Trump said to open his rally. "This was a great movement, a movement like has never been seen before in our country or before anywhere else, this was a truly great movement and I want to be here with you and I will always be with you."
The commander in chief also made clear that even as he hates the media he sure watches a lot of it. He recognized a supporter who had been interviewed on TV and invited Gene Huber up to the stage, even giving him a shot at saying a few words to the crowd. "I wouldn't say Secret Service was thrilled with that ... but we know our people," Trump said.
Pres. Trump brings supporter on stage at Florida rally: "I wouldn't say the Secret Service was thrilled with that, but we know our people." pic.twitter.com/tyfuCJvcKZ— ABC News (@ABC) February 18, 2017
The rally was also notable due to the presence of First Lady Melania Trump, who has been pretty far from the spotlight in the first month of her husband’s presidency. In Floriday today, she kicked off the rally with a prayer and later a short speech in which she vowed to work on initiatives for “women and children around the world.”
Before the rally, reporters asked Trump whether it wasn’t a tad bit early to be holding another campaign rally. His response? “Life is a campaign.”
Membership Applications at Mar-a-Lago Soar After Trump Becomes President
This is now the third weekend in a row that President Donald Trump is spending at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, which his aides have come to call the “Winter White House.” The (very expensive) visits are set to continue frequently over the next four years of Trump’s presidency and, not surprisingly, that is quite positive for the members-only Palm Beach club. The resort doubled the initiation fee to $200,000 shortly after Trump was elected, and there is no shortage of people who want to join, reveals the New York Times in a piece about the unprecedented nature of a president using a private club he owns to carry out official business.
“It enhances it—his presidency does,” Bernd Lembcke, the club’s managing director, said about membership. “People are now even more interested in becoming members. But we are very careful in vetting them.”
Members now suddenly enjoy a close proximity to power that can come with benefits. One time, for example, Trump asked one of the members if he would be interested in building the border wall with Mexico. The president spending time in a place where there are paying members opens up a flood of ethical questions, including the fact that whenever an administration official talks about the property it sounds like an ad. Case in point: Hope Hicks, a White House spokeswoman, described Mar-a-Lago as “one of the most successful private clubs in the world,” and said “the president looks forward to hosting many world leaders at this remarkable property.”
Experts are flabbergasted. “Mar-a-Lago represents a commercialization of the presidency that has few if any precedents in American history,” Jon Meacham, a presidential historian said. Although presidents often talk to the rich, “a club where people pay you as president to spend time in his company is new. It is kind of amazing.”
Newly leaked audio from a November party at Trump’s Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club illustrates just how comfortable Trump feels around the wealthy who make up his membership. Politico published audio of Trump talking at the club shortly after his victory and refering to the members as “my real group” and “the special people.” The then–president-elect also touted how close these members were going to be to key decisions, inviting them to join in as he put together his administration. “We’re going to be interviewing everybody—treasury, we’re going to be interviewing secretary of state,” he said. “We have everybody coming in—if you want to come around, it’s going to be unbelievable … so you might want to come along.”
Trump also made it clear that he talks about decisions with members: “We were just talking about who we [are] going to pick for the FCC, who [are] we going to pick for this, who we gonna accept—boy, can you give me some recommendations?”